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I recently came across a word and technique resonated with me: Pre-Mortem. While we’re all familiar with a Post-Mortem in the literal and figurative sense, many may not be familiar with the term and exercise of Pre-Mortem. This is the practice of forecasting potential problems at the start of a project vs. venturing into a project without taking advantage of the knowledge base of those on the team regarding what might go wrong with a given project. Rather than considering this process as a negative, doom-seeking exercise, this can serve as an excellent tool in your toolkit as a Project Manager.
Nearly every Project Manager will perform a Post-Mortem – commonly referred to as “Lessons Learned” for archival and future reference purposes. The reality is that few Project Mangers take the time to review or have access to these documents if they exist at all. What does exist that everyone has access to is team members’ tribal knowledge from past projects. By bringing a project team together at the start of a project and brainstorming what might go wrong and how to avoid the avoidable with a project vs. experiencing what does go wrong along the way that could have been dodged having planned around and ahead of the problems will save time and money. And maybe even the whole project.
Both the title of a book written by M. Scott Peck In Search of Stones and “Leave no stone unturned” as the Greek playwright Euripides wrote both apply perfectly here. Utilizing efforts to avoid stones before they arise on our path to success is certainly preferable to having to lug them out of the way, break them down or work around them.
Here’s a great way using a Pre-Mortem to accomplish evading problems that are indeed avoidable: Bring all team members for your project together and utilizing a white board, butcher paper, Post It Notes ® or whatever note-taking method you prefer, then encourage all project team members to brainstorm and voice their concerns at the start of the project and reflect upon what went wrong with previous projects – and how the problems were solved. Take notes and collect ideas for solutions to each. This will most often prove extremely valuable to the success of a project. Moving “stones” out of the project’s path and/or moving them out of the way at the start of a project versus tripping over them during the project’s life cycle is surely preferable – and what each of us would select if given the option.
Project Managers and their teams are often adept at responding to issues that arise during the course of a project. Circumventing these issues altogether would be the selected plan for Project Managers in all cases for sure. Having contingency plans in place for potential failures and being in the practice of problem prevention vs. problem resolution can save companies and project teams delays in and even failures of projects.
Depending on the reference used, forecasts of failed projects is 24-30% or more. This can be attributed to any number of complications, unexpected obstacles and delays that come up during a project’s lifecycle. That said, I have not found an estimate of how many projects fail for which a Pre-Mortem has been performed. Certainly these projects have a better chance of success.
I believe Gary Klein originally coined the term pre-mortem as early as 2006 or before. Upon researching it, I found that the article here, which builds on the work of Deborah J. Mitchell, Jay Russo and Nancy Pennington is well written, contains a wealth of knowledge that many will benefit many from reading it. I know I have!
Cite this blog post:
MLA: “Project Problem Prevention vs. Problem Resolution. Which Tactic Do You Engage Your Teams In?” MSS. MSS. Blog. 08 April 2015.
APA: (2012, Sep 14). Project Problem Prevention vs. Problem Resolution. Which Tactic Do You Engage Your Teams In?